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How to handle homework: 5 things teachers want parents to know

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How to handle homework: 5 things teachers want parents to know

Ask any kid, and most will tell you homework can be a drag. After spending all day in a classroom, they're loathe to go home and do even more work at the kitchen table. So we asked teachers for the inside skinny on homework—why they assign it, how to approach it, and great ways to help your child get it done.

1. Many teachers won't assign homework unless they think it's absolutely necessary
Teachers know that homework is a bummer. But they're also aware that, when properly assigned and under the right circumstances, it can be beneficial to your child's learning. "We give homework to ensure they have a thorough understanding of the concepts we are trying to teach them," says Janice Grove, an elementary school teacher in Ontario's Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

Even at the youngest grades, teachers note that homework can be key to building a foundation. "I will assign specific homework to a child in my class if it is a skill I have taught and the child continues to have challenges," says Heidi Clark, a kindergarten teacher in the Vancouver School Board. "The purpose of the assignment is for the child to gain mastery of the skill." Clark may send home worksheets to aid letter recognition or sheets with straight, curved and zigzag lines to promote scissor skills. "When parents support their child at home with the assignment, I see the changes in the classroom."

2. Parents play a key role in learning
Teachers note that a positive parental presence is essential at every stage. In the younger grades, simply speaking positively about schoolwork is helpful in setting the right tone. Discussing assignments and your children's plans to complete them lets kids know that you are invested in their learning. Reading to or with your kids—and even going beyond the assigned reading—will also reap results.

When kids enter the upper grades, parents must continue their partnership with teachers to ensure that the work gets done, says Mark Brinkman, high school teacher in Ontario's Lambton Kent District School Board. "Continue to ask questions about what they are studying and pay close attention to the quality of their work. Parents and teachers should share this responsibility."

3. Homework isn't what it used to be
Gone are the days of old-school worksheets or textbooks filled with rigid question-and-answer exercises. Angie Harrison, a kindergarten teacher in Ontario's York Region District School Board, is one of many instructors who routinely uses new technology such as iPads and SMARTboards in her classroom. She also uses her blog and emails to connect with families about ways they can support learning at home.

And Winnie Hunsburger, team leader for research and inquiry, and Vanessa Vanclief, a middle school teacher at the Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, add that a "flipped classroom" may be a good option for many students. This relatively new model of learning allows students to have the initial lesson at home via video or the Internet, and to spend classroom time working with their teachers and exploring material together, not just doing homework. "It's one of the new ways of introducing topics to students," Hunsburger observes.

4. Goal for homework: The "hidden curriculum"
While homework is certainly about extending what's taught in the classroom, teachers note that it goes beyond that. Homework has a very beneficial residual effect—something teachers call "hidden curriculum." "Homework teaches a variety of life skills, such as time management, responsibility and hard work, that are important for student success," says Mark Bailey, a high school French immersion teacher in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

5. Homework can be fun
That's right, we said it—fun. Writing and interactive story apps extend learning at home. You may be happy to hear board games (especially those with dice) and card games still play an important role in helping students develop the skills that promote learning. "These teach students how to collaborate, wait their turn and make predictions," observes Harrison.

Learn how to help your kids with their homework without being a helicopter parent.
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How to handle homework: 5 things teachers want parents to know

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